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Canada vs. Africa

Unlike the US or France, Canada is not a leading military force in Africa. But Ottawa exerts influence through a variety of means including training initiatives.

Canadian Forces have trained hundreds of African soldiers at the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre in Kingston Ontario and Lester B. Pearson Centre in Nova Scotia. Canadian forces have also directed or participated in a slew of officer training initiatives, running courses in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Mali among other places. In recent years Ottawa has funded and staffed various military training centres across the continent such as the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Ghana, African Centre for Strategic Research and Studies in Nigeria and Ecole de Maintien de la Paix Alioune Blondin in Mali.

Canadian special forces also train a number of African militaries. Along with the US, Canadian troops trained counterterrorism units in Niger, Kenya and Mali and in 2014 Canadian Special Operations Forces Command spokesman Major Steve Hawken told Embassy that his force had recently trained 800 African military personnel.

Canada is increasingly involved in “counterterrorist” training exercises in the Sahel region, which covers parts of Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea. The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has participated in Exercise Flintlock since 2011. Fifty members of CSOR and the Special Operations Aviation Squadron traveled to Senegal and Mauritania for Exercise Flintlock in 2014. The New York Times Magazine reported: “For the past three weeks, Green Berets, along with British, French and Canadian special operators, had been training 139 elite troops from Niger, Nigeria and Chad” as part of Flintlock 2014. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Flintlock takes place in a different Sahel region nation each year.

Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada’s Military Training Assistance Program, its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CFs [Canadian Forces].” At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves toachieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. … Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”

When Ottawa initiated post-independence training missions in Africa a memo to cabinet ministers described the political value of training foreign military officers. It stated: “Military leaders in many developing countries, if they do not actually form the government, frequently wield much more power and influence domestically than is the case in the majority of western domestic nations… [it] would seem in Canada’s general interest on broad foreign policy grounds to keep open the possibility of exercising a constructive influence on the men who often will form the political elite in developing countries, by continuing to provide training places for officers in our military institutions where they receive not only technical military training but are also exposed to Canadian values and attitudes.”

As part of Canada’s initial aid efforts in the early 1960s, Canadian troops trained armed forces in various African countries. In Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania, Canada endeavoured “to fill in the vacuum left by the withdrawal of British officers and training facilities,” notes Professor Robert Matthews. Military historian Sean Maloney further explains: “These teams consisted of regular army officers who, at the ‘operational level’, trained military personnel of these new Commonwealth countries to increase their professionalism. The strategic function, particularly of the 83-man team in Tanzania, was to maintain a Western presence to counter Soviet and Chinese bloc political and military influence.” By the end of the 1960s Canada had spent over $23 million (around $170 million today) training the military forces of seven African and Asian countries.

In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah, a leading pan-Africanist who was dubbed “Man of the Millennium” in a 2000 poll by BBC listeners in Africa. After independence Ghana’s army remained British dominated. The colonial era British generals were still in place and the majority of Ghana’s officers continued to be trained in Britain. In response to a number of embarrassing incidents, Nkrumah released the British commanders in September 1961. It was at this point that Canada began training Ghana’s military.

Canadians organized and oversaw the Junior Staff Officers course and a number of Canadians took up top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, in 1965 Canadian high commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey wrote the under secretary of external affairs: “Since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian high commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program at the Ghanaian Defence College. Writing to the Canadian under secretary of external affairs, McGaughey noted, “All the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.”

When today’s internal documents are made available they will likely show that Canadian military training initiatives continue to influence the continent’s politics in ways that run counter to most Africans’ interests.

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Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

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